Over the years, environmental issues have risen up our global priority list, eclipsing all other concerns. And every year new problems and concerns arise. As a result, we must constantly select to decide which environmental crisis takes precedence over which other environmental crisis.
So where do we stand on the way to 2023? Certainly we have a historical advantage over previous years, endowed with unprecedented political will and regulatory infrastructure. For example, the UN is planning “historic” regulation of the plastics industry by 2024, regulation that the executive branch of the United Nations Environment Program has called “the most significant multilateral environmental agreement since the Paris Accords.” The tide littered with plastic waste is clearly turning.
Now it’s just a matter of tackling our most pressing environmental problems — or at least deciding what they are.
Biodiversity is simultaneously the most complex and precarious feature of our global ecosystem, providing ecologies with both specialization and diversification, productive fragility and reproductive robustness. While it may seem like a simple, overly broad definition, biodiversity is essentially every living thing and ecosystem that makes up what we commonly call the “environment”. From the largest giraffe to the smallest microorganism, everything plays an important role in preserving our world.
Any reduction in biodiversity can therefore have far-reaching consequences and threaten the existence of important ecosystems. Global warming, pollution, deforestation, intensive agriculture – all these developments are shrinking biodiversity to worrying levels. Billions of species are becoming extinct or extinct worldwide. Some scientists even go so far as to suggest that we are witnessing a sixth mass extinction that is threatening the resilience of our environments and, consequently, the resilience of societies.
Reducing our meat consumption, especially red meat, as well as making more sustainable choices can help keep our planet running smoothly.
Water pollution is of course a significant concern as our dependence on water is one of our most important interactions with the natural environment. Pollution of our water sources not only places a huge financial drain on businesses and governments, it also kills people and marine life. From oil spills to toxic chemical spills to an abundance of plastic waste entering our waterways, we are damaging the most valuable resource our planet has to offer.
The solution is education. Once we understand the causes and effects of water pollution, we can work together to reverse the damage caused by humans. Likewise, building a robust regulatory infrastructure is required to act effectively across national borders.
A truism that is still underestimated: Humans need plants to survive, especially trees. Most obviously, plants provide food for humans, but they also purify water, provide medicine, and produce oxygen.
Right now, we are putting the most stress on trees. Warnings have come from all sides that if deforestation continues at its current rate, we will not have much of the valuable forestry industry left. For example, as the global climate changes, natural forest fires occur in unusual locations and on unprecedented scale, destroying significant forest areas. Similarly, illegal logging companies and the massive amount of timber being harvested for commercial purposes are causing forests to decline at an alarming rate. The destruction of forests not only reduces our oxygen supply but also upsets the carbon cycle, so deforestation can be responsible for about 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
If you want to help, you can buy more recycled and organic products and limit the amount of paper and cardboard you use.
Well, we’ve already spotlighted water pollution, but what about the other forms of pollution that plague the natural environment?
The difficult thing is that pollution causes other environmental problems, including those already mentioned, like climate change and biodiversity. All seven major types of pollution – air, water, soil, noise, radioactivity, light and heat – all have a negative impact on our environment.
All types of pollution and environmental concerns are interconnected and influence each other. So to tackle one is to tackle them all. That’s why we need to work together as a community to reduce the impact of pollution on our environment.
If you want to learn more about how climate action can affect air pollution in particular, follow the link.
5. Climate change
As a recent UN report points out, without “unprecedented changes” in our actions and behavior, our planet will suffer drastically from global warming in just 12 years. Greenhouse gases are the main cause of climate change by trapping heat from the sun and warming the earth’s surface.
One of the often-neglected impacts of climate change can only be seen beneath the waves, as increased subsurface temperatures can have quite drastic consequences for marine life and ecosystems. What’s more, global sea level rise is shrinking our country, leading to mass flooding and severe weather events around the world. If we continue as we have been, the world will suffer, perhaps irreversibly.
Swapping a journey for a walk or a ride on public transport can reduce your carbon footprint, as can turning off your electrical devices when not in use. More importantly, we need to educate the world about the severity of global warming – before it’s too late.
There is a wide range of initiatives to tackle the biggest environmental problems – from recycling programs to major legislative reforms. Learn more about efforts to measure, model and mitigate air pollution in the article Air Quality Networks – Simplifying Source Attribution, Supporting Pollutant Mitigation.